As a black woman who's attended predominately white schools my entire life, when it comes to "racist-ish" comments, I’ve heard and seen it all -- especially during black history month.
“Why isn't there a White History month?” and “Don't you think it's a bit racist? We don't celebrate any other races?” are just a few of the questions I’ve received over the years. Going to high school in Bel Air, the extent of learning anything related to black people usually boiled down to a Toni Morrison novel for English, or a recap of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air by my classmates, who related so well to Carlton's lifestyle.
Life at home was a bit different. Growing up, I was constantly reminded of my rich history with trips to a local “afro-centric” bookstore with my father. I was Coretta Scott King in a 6th grade play. In 3rd grade, I sat in Rosa Parks lap and was so overwhelmed with joy that I had to be physically removed. Physically removed.
These women and many more who we don’t read much about in school, fostered a great sense of pride in me. Their stories were my badge of honor when I felt the undeniable looks that acknowledged me as the only black girl in a lecture hall, the uncomfortable “Hey, girlfriend!” and “Oooh, no she didn’t!" outbursts from my white classmates to prove that they were “down.”
It wasn't until college that I got to see a diversity of black people in a school setting. My roommate was a Muslim from Liberia with skin like midnight and as beautiful as the moon. Her elaborate head wraps entered the room before she did, marking her arrival, and you couldn't help but be mesmerized by her departure.
I made friends with people who looked like me from Jamaica, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. I tasted new food, learned different family traditions, and saw perspectives I'd never known growing up in Los Angeles.
Much of the black history I missed out on at pristine prep schools, college provided. And my pride in being black in America increased, triple-fold. I celebrate my culture every day, as many of us do, through our religious faith, food we eat, and even language.
So when I stumbled upon this Brigham Young University video with a white man dressed in black face, asking students what they knew about black people, I was upset with myself for not being more pissed off. When asked how they celebrated Black History Month, one white student said: “Usually, what we do is we love our fried chicken and we go with some grape juice.”
The truth is, it doesn’t take much to realize that ignorance runs rampant in this country, regardless of color. But hearing some of the students’ horrific answers and remembering some of the questions I used to get back in Bel Air reminded me just why black history is so important in this country.
I’d like to think that we could use any culture’s history a vehicle to learn, to be human and to get to the bottom of how we can just be better as people. But videos like these show me that we aren’t there yet.
Also, sometimes it just feels good to be appreciated and acknowledged, even if it is during the shortest month of the year, dammit. And since black history is American history, we can all get in on the lesson. Here are just a few more reasons to celebrate this February:
Get to know black stories that go beyond Hollywood's big budget interpretations, like “The Help” and “Red Tails.” Yes, I'm one of those black people who refuses to see "The Help," and was disappointed with "Red Tails."
This poster pretty much sums up my feelings on “The Help.” There are so many other cinematic contributions that beautifully convey black history and complex race relations in this country. Some of them include, "The Tuskegee Airmen," "The Women of Brewster Place," "Bastards of the Party," "Imitation of Life," "The Learning Tree," and "School Daze." Cue up the Netflix queue and let me know what you think.
Let me preface this by saying that the three previously mentioned leaders have an irrevocable place in this country’s history. But there are so many black men and women that should be in history books, and hell, on stamps. Like, Hazel Scott, who was the first black woman to star in her own television show “The Hazel Scott Show” in 1950.
And Lucy Parsons, an labor organizer and radical socialist and anarchist who led a revolution for poor people and women, and Henrietta Lacks, whose cells from cervical cancer became the first immortal cell line to help revolutionize the face of modern medicine, and from which HeLa cells are named. You’d be hard-pressed to find any of these women in a history book. And they damn well should be.
Celebrate black folks' collective contribution to music, which is so far-reaching in this country that I don't even know where to begin. Blues, jazz and the black church, influenced everyone from Elvis to Justin Timberlake. Yet we don’t learn about many of these musicians, including bluesman Howling Wolf or Lester Young, who was the first person to use "cool" as slang for something fashionable. Cool, huh?
4. Make (some) Republicans angry.
Just saying the words, "Black History Month" could piss some folks off. And who doesn't like pissing people off every now and then? Recently, a Tea Party group in Tennessee demanded that slavery to be taken out history books. If this isn't reason enough to keep black history month securely in tact, I don't know what is. If left up to some (crazy) people, the African American foot print could be wiped off the face of the earth completely.
And you know those "food-stamp people" who Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich thinks should get jobs as janitors? Yeah well, they do get jobs as janitors -- when janitorial jobs are actually available in school districts with shrinking budgets. And they also get jobs as teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, doctors and as the President of the United States.
5. Be a Better Person.
In my opinion we become better people when we’re open to others’ experiences and history. Racism stems from ignorance. When we promote celebrations like Black History month, we are teaching the majority of Americans than people who don't look necessarily look like them have a place in history. I mean, a black man invented the stoplight.
And no, I don't think it should be limited to just black people. We should have a gay history month, Chinese history month, Carribean history month -- hell, every month of the year should celebrate America's melting pot until it's so entrenched in our every day life that we no longer need a month to get it right.
So how will you celebrate Black History month this year?